On Tuesday, the social networking application Skout suspended its teen community after reports of rape cases of children resulting from the use of its service – which was designed to facilitate flirting between adult strangers.
The initial report from the New York Times blog notes three different cases across the U.S. in which three men posed as teenagers in Skout’s 13-to-17-year-old forum and allegedly met and raped minors. All victims were under the age of 15.
The story no doubt strikes fear in every parent’s heart and serves as a reminder that digital connectedness can be a double-edged sword. It almost goes without saying that technology offers children many benefits – such as a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, the ability to self-teach, and even safety benefits like being able to connect or call parents at any time or place.
But as technology continues to embed itself deeper and deeper in the lives of children, it’s becoming impossible for parents to monitor all of their online activity. So the question becomes how can parents help their children reap the benefits of growing up in the digital age while still protecting them from the seedy-underbelly of the Internet?
Luckily for parents, that question is being addressed by startups and companies building technologies that allow parents to make the Internet age-appropriate.
Kytephone is a free mobile application that kid-proofs any Android smartphone. Having just launched its public debut this week, Kytephone allows parents to control which applications and games their kids can play, as well as when they can play it (“You don’t get to play Angry Birds until you eat your peas and do your homework.”).
In our Facebook-frenzied world, a picture says 1,000 words but those 1,000 words are forever Google-able. That’s why all photos taken on the phone by the child are immediately shared with the parent. The company also includes the ability to track and show parents the location of their child (or atleast their phone). And even the smartest kid can’t disable it – if a child takes the battery out or restarts the phone, the phone will restart in full Kyte-mode.
Famigo’s Sandbox is also a free kid-proofing smartphone application for Android. Sandbox automatically filters applications allowing children to play all the educational apps they want, but based on the parent’s preferences can also restrict text messages as well as disable calls and Internet access. While kids can build an app wishlist, all apps purchases are blocked. Sandbox also learns what kind of games a child likes and can generate personalized app recommendations for parents.
Setting up the application is easy as parents are offered a tutorial when they first run the app. Famigo Sandbox is a powerful parental control management app that will surely monitor your kids even if you are far away from home.
(We wrote about Virtual Piggy earlier this week, but we thought it deserved it place on this list as well)
Virtual Piggy allows parents to control their children’s online shopping while still giving children the freedom to shop un-chaperoned. Parents put money in their child’s virtual “piggy’ bank which their kids can spend at a selection of age-appropriate safe stores, all hand-picked and approved by Virtual Piggy. And while the child may think they have completed a purchase, a message is sent to the parent’s via email or SMS for approval before the child is charged.
You can’t always be peering over your child’s shoulder checking what they are looking at on the computer or their phone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect your children from the seedy back-alleys of the Internet. Child-safe browsers put parents in the driver’s seat, allowing them to set preferences and content filters for what their children can view. There are many browsers to choose from on all platforms – whether it be Android, IOS or web – all with different capabilities and filter levels.
One web based option, Peanut Butter PC, only allows children to visit websites their parents have added to their “backyard.” NoodleNet goes beyond validating whether a site is safe or not, it also provides a collection of targeted educational and age-appropriate websites for the child to choose from. If you are looking for a browser that offers continuity over all interfaces, Mobicip is a mobile browser for Android, iOS, Linux, and Windows that allows parents to set filtering levels at elementary, middle or high school.